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Praying for Sheetrock: Civil Rights Movement

Introduction

In her 1992 book, which full title is Praying for Sheetrock: A Work of Nonfiction, Melissa Fay Greene considers the problem of the Civil Rights Movement in the American South. Although the issue of racial inequality and struggle for civil rights is represented abundantly in American literature, Melissa Fay Greene finds a new angle to approach it. The reader can see the situation from both sides: for example, there is Sheriff Tom Poppell’s perspective and the perspective of Thurnell Alston, who is an uneducated person of color with no job. The book gives the reader a true-to-life picture of the American South (“Praying for sheetrock” par. 1).

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Main body

In the early ’70s, a small county of McIntosh in Georgia seems to be completely untouched by the Civil Rights Movement, and “the lost cause of the Confederacy is still alive” here (Mitgang n. pag.). It is a fact that even schools were still racially segregated in Georgia at that time (Widincamp 89). The High Sheriff, Tom Hardwick Poppell, keeps order in the county. He possesses four houses, or at least, the community members like to joke that he does (Greene 168). Sheriff Tom is genuinely not a bad guy. When there was a traffic accident, and one of the trucks contained brand new shoes, he gave black people permission to take some for themselves, as he knew they could not afford such shoes. It seems that Sheriff Tom is rather empathetic with his community members. But is he? Yes, he never tried to prevent black people from voting. Did he do it out of his sense of justice? Hardly so. He just needed more people to vote for him (Hodgson n. pag.). It can be seen that his motives were egoistic. Why is he so insensitive and conservative when it comes to black people’s rights? It is known that after 1965, there was a greater chance for equal civil rights (Goldsmith 8). Possibly, because black people’s oppression is a tradition. He is far from being cruel towards them, but he just does not give much thought to what real equality means. Unfortunately, people are very often unwilling to analyze and, all the more, change what is labeled as “tradition”, no matter if the subject is good or bad.

The other perspective from which the reader can observe the struggle for civil rights is that of Thurnell Alston, an unemployed black man, who began to notice injustice towards black people as he was a little boy. Many people had nothing to eat as they had no work, and Sheriff Poppell’s answered their requests with an awful remark that the only way to control black people was to keep them hungry (Greene 28). This phrase reveals his real attitude to this matter. After that, Thurnell began to notice how black people were mistreated. Thurnell feels an urge to change the situation. To do so, he becomes a county commissioner. He has lots of hard work ahead, as, although he is supported by several lawyers, the majority of McIntosh County population does not share his feelings. The Sheriff is indifferent – his perspective is obscured by his privileges which he takes for granted. The black community is startled because they are so used to this way of life that they do not notice how faulty it is, and changes, even positive, frighten them (Greene 21). What can be harder than changing people’s perspectives?

Conclusion

In her book, Melissa Fay Greene gives a very vivid description of how oppressed people struggle for their rights. The peculiar feature of the story is that the reader can see the process from different sides.

References

Goldsmith, William. “Beyond The Buffalo Hunt”: Educating For Economic Development In The North Carolina Black Belt, 1965 – 2002. Diss. Duke University, 2014. Print.

Greene, Melissa Fay. Praying For Sheetrock. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2006. Print.

Hodgson, Godfrey. “A Sleeping Giant In Search Of New Shoes: ‘Praying For Sheetrock’ – Melissa Fay Greene: Secker & Warburg, 9.99.” Independent. Independent, 2011. Web.

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Mitgang, Herbert. “Books Of The Times; Changing Race Relations In A Georgia County.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 1991. Web.

Praying for sheetrock 2010. Web.

Widincamp, Sarah Jane McNeil. “Not To Transform A Culture, But To Perpetuate It”; The Role Of Whiteness In The Desegregation Of Schools In Chattooga County, Georgia. Diss. The University of Georgia, 2012. Print.

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